Cancer Therapeutics

Technology, Discovery, and Targeted Delivery

Program Leaders:  Eric Prossnitz, PhD, and Sarah Adams, MD

The Cancer Therapeutics (CT) Research Program drives the discovery, targeting, and translation of innovative breakthroughs from UNMCCC science. CT is led by Eric R. Prossnitz, PhD, and Sarah F. Adams, MD.

The Cancer Therapeutics Research Program

The Cancer Therapeutics (CT) Research Program’s overall goal is to translate UNMCCC science to clinical and community interventions that improve cancer prevention, treatment and survival in our catchment area, the state of New Mexico, and the nation. CT will accomplish this through continued innovation in drug discovery, the development and clinical translation of novel cancer vaccines, and the targeted delivery of therapeutic agents to optimize treatment efficacy. Formalized inter-programmatic collaborations with UNMCCC research programs and Clinical Working Groups (CWGs) will advance these discoveries to interventional trials.

The Specific Aims of the CT Program are:

  • Aim 1: To employ innovative high-throughput screening and informatics platforms to conceive, design, discover, and validate novel and repurposed anti-cancer agents;
  • Aim 2: To optimize the efficacy of cancer therapeutics through targeted drug delivery, innovative vaccine platforms and preclinical models; and
  • Aim 3: To translate our discoveries to clinical and community interventions aligned with the needs of our catchment area.
  • Cancer Vaccines and Therapeutics: Serda is using 3D fluorescent microscopy and a novel acoustic flow cytometry platform (BennuBio, Albuquerque, NM) to phenotype ascites spheroid immune cells and their interactions with peritoneally administered immune therapeutics;
  • An inter-programmatic, transdisciplinary team led by Serda with Bartee, Adams and Steinkamp (CMO) is exploring immune mechanisms that enhance the efficacy of an autologous vaccine following intraperitoneal delivery;
  • Diagnostic Cancer Imaging: Posse is developing advanced MRI methods for cancer diagnostics and presurgical mapping of eloquent cortex in patients with brain tumors;
  • Artificial Intelligence: Sahu's lab is advancing methodologies in artificial intelligence for genomics and cancer therapeutics, with a focus on interpretability and bias reduction;
  • Oncolytic immunotherapy: The Bartee lab studies the oncolytic potential of the leporipox virus myxoma;
  • Discovery of glucose transporter inhibitors: Choe has conducted high-throughput ligand screening for glucose transporter (GLUT) inhibitors at the UNM Center for Molecular Discovery using hexose transporter-deficient (hxt0) yeast cells engineered to express active human GLUTs;
  • Targeted therapeutics: Leslie is an active physician scientist and a former member of the NIH NICHD Council and the NIH Director’s Council of Councils. She leads several project, including (as an MPI) a multi-institutional endometrial cancer SPORE grant (P50CA265793), Advancing Hormone Therapy for Endometrial Cancer (with Muller, Wu and Adams), in collaboration with Washington University and the University of Oklahoma; and
  • Investigator-initiated clinical trials and biomarker development: INST 1419 ”A phase 1-2 study of the Combination of Olaparib and Tremelimumab, in BRCA1 and BRCA2 Mutation Carriers with Recurrent Ovarian Cancer” completed enrollment in 2021 (NCT02571725, PI:  Adams).

To facilitate the translation of discoveries from UNMCCC investigators to IITs, the TSI was launched in 2020. The goals of TSI are to: 1) promote collaborations between basic/translational scientists and clinical investigators; 2) support the recruitment, career development, and retention of clinician-scientist faculty; 3) develop innovative early phase IITs based on UNMCCC science; and 4) streamline sample collection and distribution for mechanistic and correlative studies linked with clinical trials at UNMCCC.

Quarterly meetings of the Translational Science Focus Group have now been integrated into the Oncology Grand Rounds series to highlight emerging concepts from each research program for translation. For these presentations, a clinician is invited to present the clinical context or the critical treatment need, followed by a research presentation and a discussion about opportunities to advance UNMCCC concepts. 

Developing Translational Science Shared Resource (TSSR) to facilitate correlative science and protocol development:

Correlative Science Lab (CRL):  The CRL provides lab services for clinical investigators who do not have a laboratory or expand the scope of work by basic/translational scientists with a focus on mechanistic studies using patient samples. Staff oversee patient sample collection and tracking for active TSI protocols and coordinate integration of services from other Shared Resources (e.g. HTR, Genomics, Microscopy, Flow Cytometry).  Expanded services will include expansion of an umbrella protocol for sample collection, maintenance of a cell line repository, and providing regulatory oversight of CRL protocols.

Protocol Development Team (PDT): The PDT will provide resources, expertise, and specialized administrative support for clinical trials, including: assistance with study design, protocol writing, compliance with regulatory requirements, budget development and contract negotiation. This team will be a primary point of contact for pharmaceutical sponsors and will work closely with the Clinical Trials Office on regulatory and IND submissions. Staff will be added as use increases.